If a loved one passed away due to someone else’s negligence, you need to speak with a Utah wrongful death attorney now. You pay us nothing… until we win. Call for a free consultation with a Utah accident lawyer.
Wrongful death cases fall under the state’s civil tort laws. This is a complex area for families to navigate alone. It is certainly possible to file a wrongful death claim without lawyers, but, it would be a foolish choice.
During a free consultation with our law firm, a wrongful death attorney will review your case and evaluate its legal merits so that you can understand your options.
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What are wrongful death claims?
In Utah, wrongful death cases are legal actions that can be brought by a wrongful death attorney on behalf of clients against people or entities that cause the death of a victim through negligent, reckless, or intentional acts. Under Utah Code Ann. § 78B-3-106, a lawsuit can be filed against the responsible party when a loved one dies because of the intentional acts or negligence of another person or entity.
Wrongful death lawyers can file a UT lawsuit to pursue compensation if your loved one would have had grounds to file a personal injury claim against the defendant if he or she had lived.
Under the common law, when people died because of the negligent or intentional acts of others, the ability to file lawsuits against the responsible parties died with the victims. The state did not allow surviving family members to file lawsuits against people who caused their loved ones’ deaths.
However, state legislatures across the U.S. viewed this as inherently unjust and enacted laws to allow certain family members to file lawsuits against the responsible parties. Like all other states, Utah has a wrongful death statute.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Utah?
This topic is an area of quite a bit of confusion for UT families when they are dealing with the death of a loved one. Utah’s wrongful death statute states that wrongful death actions can be brought by the heirs, personal representative of the decedent’s estate, or the guardian of the deceased person.
Heirs include the following:
- Surviving spouse
- Surviving children, including adopted children
- Surviving parents or adoptive parents
- Surviving stepchildren who were minors at the time and were financially dependent on the deceased victim
- Other blood relatives who would inherit under the state’s intestacy laws if no one else in the above-listed categories survives
The estate’s personal representative can also file a lawsuit on the heirs’ behalf. Often, there are multiple family members who have legal rights to a wrongful death claim for the same death victim. It is best if all the family members can agree to items relating to the wrongful death claim.
Things get a bit messy when a family member disagrees with another family member. When members of the family don’t get along, it is best to be the first one to file suit. Any other lawsuit filed may be joined with your lawsuit or dismissed.
When a settlement is obtained, there can be fights about who gets what percentage of the compensation. Hopefully things can eventually be agreed to without needing formal intervention. But, if they can’t, a legal proceeding can be conducted where an arbitrator (third-party attorney) decides how to split the money between the different heirs.
If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one in UT, reach out to a personal injury attorney for the best case result. Death suits require experienced attorneys.
What must be proved in a wrongful death lawsuit?
The plaintiff has the burden of proof in a wrongful death suit. This means that the plaintiff’s lawyers will have to prove to the judge or jury that the defendant negligently or intentionally caused the victim’s death. To win a wrongful death suit, the plaintiff’s wrongful death lawyers must present evidence to prove each of the following elements:
• The defendant owed the victim a duty of care.
The plaintiff will have to present evidence that the defendant owed a duty of care to act in a reasonably safe manner to the victim. For example, if your loved one was killed in a car accident because of the defendant’s negligence, your wrongful death attorney might show that the defendant was obligated to follow the traffic laws to minimize the risk that others might be injured in a collision.
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• The defendant violated the duty of care.
The plaintiff will next have to show that the defendant acted in such a way to violate the duty of care that he or she owed to the victim. In the car accident example, your wrongful death attorney might present evidence showing that the defendant ran a stoplight, drove drunk, or violated another traffic law. Drunk driving shows extreme carelessness and attorneys often ask the court to punish the drunk driver.
• The defendant’s conduct was the proximate or direct cause of the accident and injuries.
It is not enough to show that the defendant owed a duty and violated it in some way. Wrongful death attorneys must also show that the defendant’s conduct caused the trauma and resulting death. If an intervening event caused the victim’s death, the plaintiff will not be able to prove that the defendant caused the death. The plaintiff must present evidence demonstrating the causal link between the defendant’s actions and the resulting accident and death.
• The plaintiff suffered quantifiable damages because of the defendant’s actions and his or her loved one’s death.
Finally, the plaintiff will need to prove that he or she suffered economic or non-economic losses as a result of the victim’s death. Your compensation might include such things as funeral expenses, medical bills, burial costs, companionship, and other economic and non-economic damages.
Damages in a wrongful death claim
Damages are monetary amounts that compensate wrongful death plaintiffs. Since the facts will vary based on the circumstances, the total amount of compensation will not be the same in every case.
After you establish an attorney-client relationship, professional wrongful death attorneys will use their experience to analyze the circumstances of your claim and calculate its value to let you know an estimate of what you might recover. Please feel free to call our law firm for a free consultation. We treat our clients like family and they pay nothing… until we win.
Compensatory damages are given to the family members for their economic and non-economic damages. These types of damages fall into two primary categories called special damages and general damages. Special damages are paid to compensate your family for your actual economic losses because of your loved one’s death and can include the following types:
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- Burial expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Any medical bills incurred to treat your loved one’s injuries before he or she succumbed
- Loss of the income your loved one would have earned over his or her life if he or she had lived
- Lost inheritance rights
- Property damage
General compensatory damages are designed to compensate your family for your intangible losses and can include the following types:
- Pain and suffering endured because of the loss of your loved one
- Loss of the consortium, companionship, or guidance you enjoyed during your loved one’s life
- Emotional distress
Clients can also pursue punitive damages in wrongful death cases. These damages might be awarded when the defendant acted in a particularly outrageous or wanton manner when causing any injury, including the loss of your loved one’s life.
They are meant to punish defendants and to deter future similar conduct. This means that punitive damages are not options for all clients.
Survival actions vs. wrongful death claims
Survival actions can also be filed in some cases involving wrongful death. A survival action is separate from a wrongful death claim and is codified in Utah Code Ann. § 78B-3-107.
This type of claim can be filed if a victim survived for a time and suffered the consequences of what happened. If your loved one lived for some time before dying, the estate can pursue a compensation claim for the physical pain and suffering that your loved one endured before death. Any compensation granted in a survival action will go to the estate and be passed to the deceased person’s heirs.
Statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Utah
Every state has enacted statutes of limitations for different types of legal claims. These statutes establish a time limit for filing suit.
Under Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-303, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Utah is two years. The limitation period starts to run from the date of death, which could be different than the date of the accident. If you do not file your claim before the deadline for filing expires, you will not be able to recover damages for your losses.
The best approach is to retain a professional attorney as soon as possible after the death of your loved one. Get the representation you deserve and reach out for a free consultation.
Hiring a lawyer with experience in handling wrongful death claims early will provide the attorney more time to investigate what happened and build a stronger liability case. This can also help your lawyer to find and preserve evidence that might otherwise be lost as time passes.
Civil wrongful death lawsuits vs. criminal cases
Some cases involving wrongful deaths will also expose the defendants to criminal liability. A civil wrongful death suit can be filed even when the state is pursuing criminal charges against the defendant for the same conduct.
Wrongful death claims fall under civil laws while criminal homicide cases fall under criminal laws. Since these are different bodies of law, cases under each can proceed simultaneously.
Even if the defendant has been criminally charged, it is still a good idea to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The burden of proof required in a wrongful death claim is lower than the burden of proof required of criminal prosecutors. This is because a civil suit will not result in a jail or prison sentence while a criminal case might.
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It is sometimes possible to hold a defendant liable in a civil wrongful death lawsuit even if he or she is found not guilty in a criminal case. A famous example of this occurred with O.J. Simpson.
While he was acquitted in his criminal murder case, he was found to be liable in the civil wrongful death lawsuits brought by the families of his victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Filing a wrongful death case can provide an avenue to hold the defendant accountable no matter what happens in his or her criminal case.
Schedule a consultation with a wrongful death lawyer at Creekside Injury Law
When you have unexpectedly lost a loved one because of the negligent or wrongful actions of someone else, the loss can be emotionally and financially devastating. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party, you might be able to hold the defendant accountable for his or her wrongful actions and recover compensation for your losses.
A compassionate and knowledgeable wrongful death attorney at Creekside Injury Law can evaluate your wrongful death case and help you to understand its merits. We can negotiate with the insurance company to maximize your recovery. Call us today for a free consultation at 385-263-7772.